A somehow unfortunate story within a story, Girl In Progress serves up a coming of age plot line involving a thirteen year old determined to plot the course of her coming of age life as well. Which can tend to wear down audience patience, with a far too self-conscious main character functioning more as tour guide than dramatically spontaneous protagonist, whether or not events actually turn out her way.
Cierra Ramirez is Ansiedad in Girl In Progress – a name which I’ve since been informed translates as ‘anxiety.’ And that more appropriately describes Ansiedad’s frazzled single mom, Grace (Eva Mendes). Grace seems to be working at a variety of thankless, high stress jobs, chiefly as a waitress in a Seattle seafood restaurant. With little time to spare for her obviously emotionally neglected and resentful daughter, Grace also manages to fit into her hectic schedule, romantic trysts on the sly with a wealthy, married gynecologist, Dr. Harford (Matthew Modine).
Virtually left to her own devices on a daily basis, Ansiedad draws decidedly warped inspiration from a focus on coming of age stories encouraged by her English teacher (Patricia Arquette). Fleshing out Ansiedad’s to-do list regarding that subject, is foremost ditching her similarly outcast, chubby pal Tavita (Raini Rodriguez) for a bid to join the mean girls popular crowd at school, and losing her virginity asap to a random guy at school.
Simultaneously elsewhere in town, Grace is dividing her time warding off when not partially succumbing to the advances of an infatuated busboy and aspiring cook at work (Eugenio Derbez), who happens to go by the name of Mission Impossible. And concealing her hide and seek sexual house calls with Dr. Harford from his suspicious wife by diligently scrubbing the toilet, don’t ask.
A narrative whose engine runs on a perpetually pouting young teen’s social calendar checklist, pretty much drags its way to the finish line, to say the least. And is in no way helped by Mendes’ breathlessly hyperactive and exhausting permanent panic mode. Not to mention an overabundant multi-cultural mix coming off as oddly generic, including input from Dominican screenwriter Hiram Martinez, Mexican director Patricia Riggen and Cuban American Eva Mendes.
The actors appear to be working overtime – and we’re not talking that restaurant – to desperately breathe life into an exceedingly shallow and unimaginatively derivative story. And a girl who may be in progress according to the filmmakers, but it never quite succeeds in showing up on the screen.